V2546. JOSEF MANN: Songs by Schubert, Cherubini, Moniuszko & Noskowski; Arias & Duets (w.Barbara Kemp) from Aida, Otello, Aida, Ballo, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Tosca, Pagliacci, Cavalleria, Martha, La Juive, Carmen, Die Königin von Saba, Tannhäuser, Tristan, Parsifal, Lohengrin, Mona Lisa, Der Evangelimann, Tiefland, Straszny Dwor & Halka. (Germany) 2-Truesound Transfers 4008, recorded 1910-21, Pathé & Odeon. Transfers by Christian Zwarg. [Of so many Zwarg miraculous restorations, this one is truly a revelation!]
“Mann seems to have possessed an excellent technique. The voice is produced freely and away from the throat, retaining a certain full-bodied quality to its middle register, perhaps a legacy of his earlier baritone activities. He moves effortlessly through the passaggio, leading into a carefully placed, bright and contained upper register which is pointed and condensed and does not spread, exhibiting a thrilling squillo once above the stave. It is without doubt a genuine tenore di forza….he surely leaves the listener with a feeling that he is not over-parted in any of the excerpts recorded, however dramatic they may be….All in all, this is a fine tribute to an artist who possessed a musical and histrionic talent and one who also possessed a voice of some considerable importance….at the height of his career in 1921, tragically during a performance of AIDA, he suffered a heart attack and died on the stage in Berlin. This meant that American audiences never heard him as he was unable to take up the invitation to sing at the Metropolitan, New York. [After the death of Caruso] it was thought that Mann would take over a number of that iconic tenor’s roles.”
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2019
"Josef Mann was a Ukrainian dramatic tenor born in 1883. He died tragically at the age of 38 of a heart attack during a performance of AIDA in Berlin on September 5, 1921, just a month before a scheduled trip to New York to make his Metropolitan Opera debut. The Met had offered him a five-year contract, hoping Mann would fill the shoes of Caruso, who had retired in 1920 and died in August, 1921. Mann is largely forgotten today, not even rating a mention in John Steane's THE GRAND TRADITION or in Michael Scott's THE RECORD OF SINGING. But there are 47 titles transferred here, recordings made for Pathé and Odeon, companies that would not have invested in so many recordings of a singer without a considerable reputation. The recordings were made in the decade between 1911 and 1921, and they are a revelation.
Mann may not have been the most imaginative interpreter. The singing here is straightforward, idiomatic, and naturally phrased, but with few individual touches. There are no moments of dramatic or even musical individuality that will cause the listener to pull up short in surprise. But do not let that discourage you from seeking this release out. What you will hear is an extraordinarily evenly produced line, a dramatic tenor voice that is solid from top to bottom of its range, produced with remarkable and uncommon steadiness of tonal emission. The top notes ring out freely in most of the recordings, although there are a few (the 1919 'Celeste Aida', for example) where the top sounds just a bit tight. Mann made his debut in 1909 in his hometown of Lwow singing in Stanislaw Moniuszko's opera JONTEK, and one nice thing about this collection is that it includes two excerpts from that composer's HALKA, one from his STRASZNY DWOR, and a song as well. Mann's career grew rapidly in Europe. In 1912 he was engaged at the Volksoper in Vienna, and in 1918 became an important singer at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. He created the title role in Pfitzner's PALESTRINA for its Berlin premiere. Before he died, Mann was learning the lead role of Paul in Korngold's DIE TOTE STADT to sing at the U.S. premiere at the Met (Orville Harrold took it over), and he was schedule to sing other Caruso roles as well.
Clearly this is the story of a major singer who became a might-have-been, and this collection, far more than any prior transfers that I have heard demonstrates Mann's vocal assets. the OTELLO excerpts, even though sung in German, are powerful and idiomatic, 'Ora per sempre addio' sung with real thrust and the final scene with heartbreaking tenderness. The steadiness of tone in the Passover Scene from LA JUIVE is particularly beautiful, although it is heard amidst a scrawny, thin-sounding chorus. Mann brings not only strength but also lyrical beauty to 'No, Pagliaccio non son!' showing an imaginative sense of vocal shading. If he doesn't quite capture the lightness of 'Di tu se fedele' from UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, he still invests it with ringing tone. In an area not part of Caruso's repertoire, it is Mann's Wagner that is particularly impressive. Even in the bleeding chunks that were the only possibility within the limitations of 78s, he brings a remarkable sweep and richness of tone to TANNHAUSER, TRISTAN, PARSIFAL, and LOHENGRIN. After the grace and elegance of his singing of Pedro's scene from the Prologue of TIEFLAND by Eugen d'Albert, the power of Mann's rendition of 'Amfortas! Die Wunde' from PARSIFAL catches one by surprise.
It is, in fact, the juxtaposition of real power with vocal elegance that makes Mann's singing unique. If one were to list the virtues that one hopes to find in classically beautiful singing - firm, well-supported tone that retains its quality in all registers, smoothness of register shifts, a natural feeling for legato and phrase-shaping, clear diction, and a sense that the words and music have a dramatic meaning - these virtues are here in abundance. Virtually everything is sung in German, but the Italian numbers have the right ebb and flow, much as they did when Wunderlich sang Italian selections in German.
The final recordings on this disc were made months before his death in 1921 and demonstrate that he was still at the peak of his powers. They include a splendidly Nile Scene duet from AIDA with Barbara Kemp. Both singers offer splendid examples of steady tonal emission and ideal breath support.
One could not ask for better transfers. Prior examples that I have encountered of Mann's records lacked the richness of timbre that is brought out here; the previous transfers made the voice sound drier and harder in tone. Here one is impressed by the beauty of the sound, the glow that surrounds its firm tonal center. There are no notes, but total documentation for each recording is provided. The valuable website FORGOTTEN OPERA SINGERS, run by Ashot Arakelyan, gives some good biographical background on Mann. Vocal collectors are in for a major discovery by tracking this 2-CD set down."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"...an absolute revelation! Here, the voice comes through with tonal sheen, passion and with more personality than any other transfers have been able to bring out. Dynamics and agility are in better relief, as is a sensitivity I had always found lacking. These transfers are absolutely miraculous, and I hope for more Truesound transfers."
- Davyd Booth, GREAT SINGERS REMEMBERED, WHYY - NPR